Bush health plan would gut current coverage: critics

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 2:35 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush's proposed health-insurance plan will raise taxes while helping only a few people, and may eviscerate existing coverage, critics said on Wednesday.

Bush, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, proposed taxing many employer-sponsored health plans and giving tax breaks to people who want to buy insurance as individuals, as a way to give more Americans access to health insurance.

Leading Democrats, whose party controls Congress, have already condemned the plan.

The tax breaks may not help many uninsured people, said Diane Rowland, an executive vice-president with the nonprofit research group Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Our 46 million uninsured predominantly have low incomes," Rowland said in an interview. "Forty-three percent are below level where they have any tax liability. The question is really who among the uninsured benefits from this program."

Bush also proposed diverting some funds from Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance plan for the needy, and letting states use the money to help some of the nearly 47 million Americans who do not have health insurance.

But there would be a price -- states would have to drop mandates, which are legislative requirements for health-insurance companies to cover certain conditions, such as depression and hospital stays after childbirth.

"It they wanted to use these funds they would have slimmer health-insurance requirements," Rowland said.

Deborah Burger, president of the 75,000-member California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said some people could be forced to buy bare-bones health plans that provide little cover.

"It encourages people to gamble with their health by avoiding preventive care which raises the danger of increased pain and suffering for millions of Americans down the road," Burger said. Burger's group joined others in calling for a national health system on Wednesday.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose party just took control of Congress, said he would fight the proposals.

"This policy would immediately impose a new tax on nearly 7.5 million Americans who now have good employer-sponsored coverage," Kennedy said in a statement.

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